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In phonetics, a triphthong ( or ) (from Greek ?, "triphthongos", literally "with three sounds," or "with three tones") is a monosyllabic vowel combination involving a quick but smooth movement of the articulator from one vowel quality to another that passes over a third. While "pure" vowels, or monophthongs, are said to have one target articulator position, diphthongs have two, triphthongs three, and tetraphthongs four.


First segment is the nucleus


In British Received Pronunciation, and most other rhtoic (r-dropping) varieties of English, monosyllabic triphthongs with R are optionally distinguished from sequences with disyllabic realizations:

  • [a?] as in hour (compare with disyllabic "shower" [a.?])
  • [a?] as in fire (compare with disyllabic "higher" [a.?])
  • [] as in "loir" (compare with final disyllabic sequence in "employer" [.?])

As [e] and [] become [] and [?:] respectively before /r/, all instances of [e.?] and [.?] are words with the suffix "-er".

In Cockney, triphthongal realizations [?i, ?i, ?u, æi] of /i?, e?, , æ?/ are possible and regarded as "very strongly Cockney".[1] Among these, the triphthongal realization of // occurs most commonly.[2] There is not a complete agreement about their distribution: according to Wells (1982), they "occur in sentence-final position",[3] whereas according to Mott (2012), these are merely "most common in final position".[2]


Danish has the following thriphthongs:[4]

  • [u?] as in færge 'ferry'
  • [iu?] as in hvirvle 'to whirl'
  • [oeu?] as in Børge, a given name
  • [uu?] as in spurv 'sparrow'

Bernese German

Bernese German has the following triphthongs:

  • [iu?] as in Gieu 'boy'
  • [yu?] as in Gfüeu 'feeling'
  • [uu?] as in Schueu 'school'
  • [yi?] as in Müej 'trouble'

Northern Bavarian

Northern Bavarian has the following triphthongs:[5]

  • [?u] as in /h?u/ (MHG hâr) 'hair', or as in /?u/ (mhd. ôr) 'ear'
  • [?i] as in /m?i/ (MHG mêr) 'more'
  • [ou] as in /?nou/ (MHG snuor) 'cord'
  • [ei] as in /fei/ (MHG vier) 'four', or as in /?neil/ (MHG snüerelîn) 'small cord'

The Northern Bavarian triphthongs have evolved from combinations of former long vowels or diphthongs from the Middle High German (MHG) period and vocalized r.

Second segment is the nucleus


  • [u?ai?] as in Paraguai 'Paraguay', iguais 'equal, similar, same (plural)', and quaisquer 'any (plural)'
  • [u?ei? ~ ui?] as in enxaguei 'I rinsed' and magoei 'I get/did (emotional) hurt'
  • [uu?] as in saguão 'crush-room'
  • [ui? ~ ui?] as in delinquem 'they break the law' and enxaguem 'they rinse'

Some Portuguese triphthongs appear in places where some speakers can break the first segment to form a hiatus (that is, [i?] or [u?] are not equivalent to standard Portuguese semivowels [j] and [w] in this case), and as such they are deemed as non-triphthongs by standard, although many or most speakers produce them as such (and even more frequently when speaking colloquially):

  • [i?ei? ~ ii?] as in mapeei 'I mapped' and maquiei 'I did make up' or (colloquially) 'I disguised (the reality)'
  • [i?ou?] as in clareou 'cleared (singular third person)', miou 'meowed' (second and third persons singular) and piou 'chirped' (singular second and third persons)

In addition, phonetic diphthongs are formed in most Brazilian Portuguese dialects by the vocalization of /l/ in the syllable coda, as well as by yodization of vowels preceding /s/ and /z/ or their syllable-final pre-consonantal allophones [?] and [?], thus if these consonants precede diphthongs, it is likely that a triphthong will form:

  • [u?] for aluvial 'alluvial' ([i?au?], manual 'manual' ([u?au?]) and Gabriel 'Gabriel' ([iu?])
  • [i?] for aloés 'aloe plants' ([ui?]) and águias 'eagles' ([i?ai?])


  • [i?au?] as in iau 'I take'
  • [i?ei?] as in iei 'you take' ; also ei (they)
  • [i?eu?] as in eu 'I'
  • [e?au?] as in râdeau 'they were laughing'
  • [e?ai?] as in râdeai 'you (sg) were laughing'
  • [u?ai?] as in Uruguay


  • [u?ei?] as in buey 'ox'
  • [u?ai?] as in Uruguay
  • [i?ai?] as in cambiáis 'you [plural]change'
  • [i?ei?] as in cambiéis 'that you may change'


  • [] as in ti 'fresh'
  • [] as in ru 'alcohol'
  • [ie] as in tiêu 'pepper'
  • [u?] as in nuôi 'to nourish'
  • [u?ai?] as in khoai 'potato'
  • [u?i?] as in khuya 'late into the night'
  • [u?i] as in khu?u 'to fall on one's knees'[]
  • [u?] as in ngo?o 'to turn/twist'

Third segment is the nucleus


  • [ia] as in Ioan 'John'

See also


  1. ^ Wells (1982:306, 310)
  2. ^ a b Mott (2012:78)
  3. ^ Wells (1982:306)
  4. ^ "Vokale" (in German).
  5. ^ Gütter (1971), see the maps 8 mhd. â, 9 mhd. ô, 11 mhd. ê, 15 mhd. uo, 13 mhd. ie, 14 mhd. üe.


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